College Sports

‘Guts and grit.’ How a Blue Ridge peak helped Appalachian State back hit new heights

Appalachian State running back Jalin Moore (25), who played high school ball at Shelby Crest, wasn’t particularly big or fast growing up, but he was always strong. He’s refined that strength to be one of college football’s top returning rushers.
Appalachian State running back Jalin Moore (25), who played high school ball at Shelby Crest, wasn’t particularly big or fast growing up, but he was always strong. He’s refined that strength to be one of college football’s top returning rushers. AP

Ask Appalachian State running back Jalin Moore about the journey from Shelby’s Crest High School to the NFL’s radar, and he points up yonder.

Yonder, as in Howard’s Knob, the mountain that overlooks Kidd-Brewer Stadium. Moore points to the end zone and then to the top of that peak. That run of about three miles is a major part of the regimen set down by “Coach Mike” Sirignano, Appalachian State’s strength-and-conditioning expert.

“That’s when you know you’re in the mountains,” said Moore, the 5-11, 205-pound senior. “This is great for training. Run up, run down.”

Moore has a reputation for not griping, even when it would be justified. He’s seen the results: Entering Saturday’s season-opener at Penn State, Moore is second among active players in career rushing yards (3,170) in the top level of college football. A player who was somewhat an afterthought in Appalachian State’s 2014 recruiting class was named one of “college football’s most freakish athletes” by nfl.com.

That’s not because he’s naturally big or fast — by his own description he wasn’t growing up — but he’s always been strong, and four years in Boone have refined that trait into quite an advantage.

Each time Moore enters the weight room, he visualizes what he must face in a game: It’s a matter of survival. Part of that is technical — remembering to keep his shoulder pads at the right level to absorb blows — and the rest is the strength and will earned pumping iron.

“Breaking through tackles,” Moore said, “those squats — what they do for your legs — make the most difference.

“I squatted about 650 this year. Defensive linemen: Be on the lookout for that!”

Moore’s style is somewhat reminiscent of former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, whose NFL career was cut short by knee injuries. Lattimore became famous for how he drove through tacklers. That same power, when confronted by tacklers who might outweigh him by 100 pounds, is how Moore has had four games of 235 or more rushing yards.

“When I’m squatting 650, all I’m thinking about is a 320-pound defensive lineman wrapped around my legs,” Moore described.

“Or when I’m in power-clean (a barbell lift that starts at the floor and ends at the chest), it’s explosiveness. Every exercise I do, I picture something on the field. It just makes me go harder: When you picture yourself breaking a tackle or going on a long run, that makes it easier to transition from the weight room to the field.”

Search for confidence

Often in college football and basketball, coaches have to “un-recruit” players once they reach campus: As in, prospects’ egos have been so bloated with praise from recruiters that they must be reined in to a coachable level.

It was quite the opposite with Moore. Despite rushing for 1,456 yards and 23 touchdowns as a Crest senior, he didn’t draw a lot of college attention.

“He didn’t even really start at his high school., was not heavily recruited. We brought him in the last weekend in January. He was one of our late takes of his class,” Appalachian State coach Scott Satterfield recalled.

“But he’s always had that potential. We were always as coaches trying to give him the confidence to bring that out.”

It helped, Satterfield said, that Moore was on campus for two seasons with a model at running back in Mountaineers career rushing leader Marcus Cox (5,103 yards from 2013 through ’16). Moore redshirted in 2014, then shared carries with Cox in 2015. He came on particularly strong in the last four games of the that season, finishing with a team-high 7.4 yards per carry. In 2016, after Cox was injured the third game of the season, Moore became the featured starter at the position.

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Appalachian State running back Jalin Moore’s (25) style is somewhat reminiscent of former South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore, whose NFL career was cut short by knee injuries. Dan Anderson ASSOCIATED PRESS

The confidence factor Satterfield mentioned is now there, but there’s still a sense of wonder about Moore’s status on this team. For instance, Satterfield organized a 10-player leadership board to help keep the Mountaineers on point this season. Moore’s presence among those 10 leaders would seem a no-brainer to everyone ... except Moore.

“I came here fifth or sixth on the depth chart and had to work my way up,” Moore said. “The idea that I’d be part of that (a leadership council) just isn’t what I expected.”

Balance

Moore likes that balance in his approach: The kid from Shelby still not assuming he’s all that, yet not intimidated playing against Power 5 programs full of five-star recruits, as he will Saturday in State College, Pa.

“People will ask me, ‘How do you feel about going against Georgia or Penn State?’” Moore said. “I always dreamed of going to these schools. Now, if I can’t compete with them at my top potential, then how would I have ever been recruited by them?”

Next spring it won’t matter who went to what school, when the NFL conducts its annual draft. Moore figures to be drafted five years removed from being a recruiting afterthought, and he marvels at that. Sometimes he sits in his apartment visualizing what he’d say in a job interview with an NFL team:

“You’re going to get my all: The guts and the grit. I’m going to get nasty when I need to be,” Moore said of his resume. “I’m coachable and I’m going to bust my (butt) 24-7: Whatever it takes to take care of my family.”

At 5-11 and 205 pounds, Moore would be smaller than almost everyone he’d face in the NFL. But mountainous obstacles don’t beat him.

Howard’s Knob proves that.

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